Draft hype season is one of the most painful stretches on the NFL calendar, but at least it’s not hard to see why there are so many manufactured angles and storylines stretched far behind their capacity to support interest. As good as Nick Bosa may be, a lineman (or any non–skill position player) going No. 1 is boring. In response to that likelihood, every day since the combine has been spent yelling about Kyler Murray, the Oklahoma quarterback who may go very high, or who may not. The polarization of opinions on Murray is genuinely interesting, as is the discussion itself, but the fact that it’s the only game in town right now means it has the potential to get very stupid. The week started with debate about Murray’s height, which at least had the benefit of being about something objective. The week finishes with lessons in media ethics, which is probably not where anyone expected it to go.
Let’s recap. On Tuesday, Charley Casserly, formerly GM in Washington and Houston and currently an NFL Network analyst, used his time on the air to blast what he claimed was Murray’s underwhelming performance in combine interviews.
“These were worst comments I ever got on a high-rated quarterback and I’ve been doing this a long time ... Leadership, not good. Study habits, not good. The board work, below not good. Not good at all in any of those areas, raising major concerns about what this guy is going to do.”
On Wednesday, Casserly did an ESPN radio hit in which he beat the same drum. Pay close attention to this quote.
“One thing that stuck out to me: This guy was never trained for the interview. Whoever trained him did a poor job; guys do get trained for interviews now.”
There are three counters to this idea. The first is that draft hype season is all about disinformation. Teams do not leak their honest opinions of players, because they want to manipulate other teams into taking the guys they don’t want. An NFL front office would never share that it likes a player, because it wants that player to be there when its turn to draft comes up, so why should we believe a front office when it claims it doesn’t like a player? Occam’s Game Theory or whatever states that a team leaking news that Murray bombed the combine actually thinks he aced it, but wants to scare other teams away.
The second comeback to Casserly’s takes is the personal one: basically, Charlie Casserly is an idiot who’s always wrong. Casserly’s teams in his GM career were general not, shall we say, good, nor was his quarterback drafting. He spent a No. 3 pick on Heath Shuler and a No. 1 pick on David Carr. In a just world, that would disqualify someone from being paid to share their opinions on quarterback prospects.
Murray’s agent, Erik Burkhardt, went this route with a surprisingly strong statement to Pro Football Talk:
“The bottom line here is that it calls into question the motives of a man to get on national television and cite anonymous sources on things such as ‘leadership’ and ‘study habits’ about somebody he’s never met,” Burkhardt said. “Look, If you don’t like Kyler’s game, it’s cool. If you don’t like his size and want to talk about that, that’s fine, too. If you’re into a Heath Shuler-type looking guy, then hype those guys and say why. But when you slander the character and work ethic of a young man who’s worked his ass off his entire life and done everything right to put himself in his current position, you’d better cite your sources and come with a better record than 18-46 as a G.M. of the Texans, and whose own leadership and accountability has been questioned by his old bosses and colleagues, as well as the greatest coach on the planet.”
The caveat here is that nobody outside of Murray himself is more biased than Burkhardt when it comes to making sure Murray gets drafted with a high pick. That’s fine, we all have motivations.
But at least Burkhardt’s motivations are transparent, which brings us to the third and strongest argument for not listening to a thing Casserly says. As noted by PFT, Casserly has an enormous conflict of interest here. Since 2015, he has worked for EXOS, an agency that preps prospects for the combine and draft process. Casserly’s specific role is to prep them for their interviews with teams.
That’s a problem! It’s easy to picture Casserly slagging off Murray—who did not work with EXOS—out of spite, and also to emphasize the importance of combine interview coaching to future prospects. In other words, to drive more business his way. It also calls into question the public praise Casserly offers for other prospects. Are they EXOS clients? Is he praising them because they paid him? Is part of the deal when you hire EXOS knowing that Casserly is going to go on television and report positive things about you, which will actively improve your draft stock?
Sports media is incestuous enough. Even before this particular mess, Casserly was a former NFL employee who works for an NFL-branded media company (and whose paychecks are signed by the NFL) and who helps set the narrative in the NFL. Now we know he’s also got a side hustle, being paid by people who hope to get NFL jobs. That’s an ethical disaster. I fully expect that nothing will come of this, that Casserly will continue to do what he’s been doing and no one in the NFL will care, but this week has exposed him as hitting the trifecta of lazy, incompetent, and craven. I wonder if it was worth it.